(CNSNews.com) – A resolution designed to end U.S. military support for the Saudi war in Yemen edged closer to President Trump’s desk – and a possible first veto of his presidency – when it passed the new Democrat-led House Wednesday by a 248-177 vote.
Eighteen Republicans (details below) joined all the Democrats in passing H.J. Res. 37, which directs the president to remove U.S. armed forces from hostilities “in or affecting” Yemen within 30 days, unless Congress issues a declaration of war, authorizes a later withdrawal date, or specifically authorizes the use of armed forces in the conflict.
The U.S. Senate already passed a similar resolution last December, by 56-41, with seven Republicans voting in favor. It did so shortly after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged senators not to advance what he called a “poorly timed” resolution.
The U.S. has been providing aerial targeting assistance and inflight refueling for aircraft of the Saudi-led coalition which in 2015 launched a campaign against the Iranian-backed Houthi militia. The refueling support was suspended last November.
Tens of thousands of Yemenis have been killed in the conflict, with significantly more civilian deaths attributed to the Saudi-led campaign that to the Houthis.
The House resolution, like the one approved by the Senate late last year, specifically does not affect U.S. military operations against al-Qaeda terrorists and also states that, “Nothing in this joint resolution may be construed to influence or disrupt any military operations and cooperation with Israel.”
Nonetheless, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), the House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member, expressed concern that the resolution, with it reference to hostilities “in or affecting” Yemen, could have “dangerous implications far beyond Saudi Arabia,” potentially impacting U.S. military cooperation with Israel or other allies.
“Under this model, if one member doesn’t like something that any of our security partners does overseas, that member can force quick consideration of a resolution directing the removal of U.S. forces from hostilities ‘in or affecting’ that situation,” McCaul contended. “It no longer matters that U.S. forces are not actually conducting those hostilities.”
He noted that the War Powers Resolution (in section 5(c)) refers to U.S. armed forces “engaged in hostilities outside the territory of the United States.”
However – as noted in the resolution language – section 8(c) of that 1973 measure also covers situations in which U.S. armed forces are assigned “to command, coordinate, participate in the movement of, or accompany the regular or irregular military forces of any foreign country or government when such military forces are engaged.”
Speaking in favor of the resolution, House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) said despite the fact the U.S. Constitution gives Congress the responsibility to declare war, Congress has for too long “given presidents of both parties a virtual blank check to send our brave service members into harm’s way while we’ve stood on the sidelines.”
One of the 18 Republicans who supported the measure, Rep. Warren Davidson of Ohio, said the issue was fundamentally about the constitutional authority of Congress.
“As the president said, great powers don’t fight endless wars,” he said. “I would add that nor do they fight undeclared or participate in undeclared wars.”
At the same time Davidson, a former U.S. Army Ranger, said the resolution was “at best a half measure.”
“It stops any active participation in undeclared, unauthorized combat, but it also fails to advance the policy of our country, which is to treat Iran as the threat it is, not just to the United States of America, but to its neighbors and our allies in the region.”
Opposition in Congress to the Saudi campaign in Yemen grew after the killing of the self-exiled Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul early last October.
The U.S. Senate in a unanimous resolution last December declared its belief that the kingdom’s de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was “responsible for the murder."
Bin Salman, who is also defense minister, is seen as the architect of the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen.
Critics in Congress say the administration’s response to the Khashoggi killing has been inadequate. Seventeen Saudi officials were sanctioned, but the crown prince was not among them.
Pompeo last week reiterated the administration’s stance that it has already taken action and was continuing to probe the killing.
“President Trump himself has said repeatedly to the extent we continue to develop facts that implicate others in the terrible act, the terrible murder of Jamal Khashoggi, we will continue to hold all of the people connected to it accountable,” he told the Fox Business Network. “It’s an American commitment.”
The 18 House Republicans who voted in favor of the measure on Wednesday were Reps. Andy Biggs (Ariz.), Mo Brooks (Ala.), Ken Buck (Colo.), Michael Cloud (Texas), Warren Davidson (Ohio), Matt Gaetz (Fla.), Louie Gohmert (Texas), Morgan Griffith (Va.), Trey Hollingsworth (Ind.), Jim Jordan (Ohio), Thomas Massie (Ky.), Mark Meadows (N.C.), Alex Mooney (W.V.), Bill Posey (Fla), Chip Roy (Texas), David Schweikert (Ariz.), Scott Tipton (Colo.) and Daniel Webster (Fla.)
The seven Republican senators who supported the Senate resolution last December were Sens. Mike Lee (Utah), Susan Collins (Me.), Steve Daines (Mont.), Jerry Moran (Kan.), Rand Paul (Ky.), Todd Young (Ind.) – and Jeff Flake (Ariz.), who is no longer in the Senate.